The Neon Museum of Philadelphia has a bright history.
The venue, located at 1800 N. American St., was established in 1983, but its foundation was laid in 1950s Philadelphia and the 1970s South. Its mission since setting roots in the City of Brotherly Love is to preserve historic signage as an important element of community heritage in Philadelphia and America. As the museum’s description states, the venue is actually an American art and history museum disguised as a neon museum.
Starting this weekend, Philadelphians can catch the core exhibit at the museum and also a new limited-time-only showcase titled “Neon Currents.” The temporary add-on features contemporary neon art from eight regional artists, and it spans past the Neon Museum of Philadelphia, featuring works also from the Art Trust in West Chester.
The description reads: “‘Neon Currents’ brings together contemporary work from eight regional neon artists. Entering the world of neon from different pathways, the exhibiting artists include neon glass blowers, designers and instructors. Simultaneously staged at the Neon Museum of Philadelphia and The Art Trust at Meridian Bank in West Chester, ‘Neon Currents’ features large installations, mixed media, and sculpture — showcasing the creative, exciting and inspiring ways neon is used beyond the traditional application of signage.”
Curated by Eve Hoyt, this latest exhibit features work from a few different artists including Len Davidson, Alissa Eberle, Eve Hoyt, Danielle James, Victoria Ahmadizadeh Melendez, Fred Musso, Mark Naylor and Haley Ryane.
Although it’s already on view in West Chester, the exhibit opens in Philadelphia on Friday, Jan. 28, with the opening party set for Jan. 29 from 1 to 4 p.m.
In the core showcase, however, visitors will be able to peruse through over 150 neon pieces ranging from large, animated commercial signs to one-of-a-kind artworks all complimented by artifacts, photos, oral histories and descriptive narratives.
One piece of note located inside the museum comes from Philly neon legend Joe Feldman of Ajax Sign Co. Philadelphians will be able to check out his famous “masterpiece,” the original Pat’s Steaks crown. This is a fun one as well since there is a bit of a legend attached to it: There were 39 neon tubes on the sign, but by the time it came into the museum’s hands, only two were left. Though the porcelain was restored, the neon restoration remains a bit of a mystery, as no photos of the sign with all of its neon have ever surfaced.
Historians and those who know the city will also recognize the original neon sign for McGillin’s, the oldest tavern in Philly, dating back to the 1860s. As the release states, due to maintenance problems, the double-sided sign was replaced with a replica and the museum was lucky enough to obtain and restore the original.
However, the oldest piece in the core exhibit is the Bulova clock, which is said to be one of three (possibly four) identical 1939 New York World’s Fair clocks installed above Philadelphia jewelers after the fair. The framework of the clock is all original and dates back to the 1950s or earlier.
Museum-goers can check out all of these pieces in person, or see it all unfold through founder Len Davidson’s book “Vintage Neon,” which documents classic signs, their creators and the businesses they symbolized.
The museum recommends reserving tickets, though walk-ins are welcome. Tickets run for $10 for adults; kids ages 7 to 12 enter for free; however, no kids under 7. Those interested can book tickets at neonmuseumofphiladelphia.com.